The Legislature began the special session with hearings in both House and Senate committees on bail reform legislation on Saturday, July 10. The House Select Committee on Constitutional Rights and Remedies heard hours of testimony on House Bill 2 by Rep. Reggie Smith (R-Sherman) and House Joint Resolution 1 by Rep. Kyle Kacal (R-College Station). Counties were well represented during the hearing as many county officials and associations testified on potential cost to counties should the measures be implemented. At the end of the hearing, both pieces of legislation were voted out of committee.
Simultaneously, the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence heard Senate Bill 6 and Senate Joint Resolution 3 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), the identical Senate companions to the House bills. Brazos County Justice of the Peace Rick Hill, immediate past president of the Justices of the Peace and Constables Association of Texas, testified in support of SB 6 but urged senators to consider changes that would reduce the cost to counties and make the legislation more workable to justices of the peace. The committee voted out the bill and joint resolution. Chair Huffman assured witnesses that amendments would be considered on the Senate floor to address concerns.
On Tuesday, July 13, the Senate unanimously passed both SB 6 and SJR 3. SJR 3 passed out of the Senate without amendments. SB 6 included amendments that:
- Incorporate the bail form into the public safety report (PSR). This will allow the form to be accessed, viewed, completed and submitted electronically.
- Extend the time magistrates must satisfy new training requirements to better align with the academic year of training entities.
- Make changes to only felony cases committed while a defendant is out on bail for those defendants who are required to see the court before whom the case for the previous offense is pending. If the offense occurs outside of the county of the previous offense, a magistrate must promptly send an electronic notice of the charge to the court before whom the case for the previous offense is pending.
- Align language with current statute by replacing all uses of the phrase "monetary bond" with the phrase "surety or cash” bond.
- Add visiting judges under Chapter 74 of the Government Code to the list of magistrates who can release certain defendants on bail.
- Clarify that the consideration of the bail form and PSR is only required for jailable offenses so the bill does not interfere with current local cite-and-release practices within the state.
- Clarify that if a county chooses to use a bail schedule, an indigency determination (for purposes of ability to pay cash or surety bail) may occur either at magistration or afterward in a subsequent pretrial hearing held for that purpose.
- Change reporting requirements for charitable bail organizations to be sent to the presiding judge of the administrative judicial region instead of the county sheriff, enabling the presiding judge of the administrative judicial region to suspend a charitable bail organization that fails to comply with statutory requirements from paying bail bonds instead of placing that burden on the sheriff.
- Remove bond condition reporting requirements that applied to police chiefs and only requires this of sheriffs to avoid requiring multiple law enforcement agencies to submit this information.
- Add additional individuals to the list of who can run a PSR if a county does not have a personal bond office.
County voices were heard as some of the amendments included suggestions from county officials.
The Senate has now passed the baton to the House with respect to these bills. However, the House does not currently have a quorum of members present so SB 6 and SJR 1 are in a holding pattern until a quorum is reached.
For more information, please contact Amy Befeld or Kelsey Bernstein.
Brazos County Justice of the Peace Rick Hill, immediate past president of the Justices of the Peace and Constables Association, testifies in support of Senate Bill 6 before the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence on July 10.